|Radio Data Services
- Extras or delusions?
A recent article in the
Los Angeles Times concerning Radio Data Services
(RDS) combined with the advertising of the advertisement last month
(Licence News July 28) of the RDS
sub-carrier of the UK INR1 licence spurred us to think of what have
been widely touted as major "improvements" to radio but
which we prefer to think off as add-ons to the audio and also the
issue of which ones are really desirable extras and which marketing
The ouster at the weekend of Thomas Middelhoff, chief executive of
Germany's Bertelsmann AG, which had been preceded by the downfall
of Robert W. Pittman as chief operating officer of AOL Time Warner
Inc. and Jean-Marie Messier, the chief executive of France's Vivendi
Universal SA -- the world's second-largest media firm, seemed to us
further evidence that the great minds of the top media companies were
nowhere near as smart as they seemed in assessing the public desire
for technological advances, however good they may have been on selling
"bright" ideas of the future to their companies for a while.
Middlehoff was associated with Bertelsmann's purchase of Napster;
Pittman was thought of as a guru of convergence and synergy; and Messier's
bright ideas included the idea that teenagers would be overwhelmed
with desire to movies on their cell phones.
All of them either ignored or under-valued the core qualities that
had made their original constituent companies successful or failed
to allow sufficiently for the differences between the disparate elements
-what we would term the "modes of transport idea.
Under this notion the bright MBA can put together these various elements
without zing that the bicycle is transport as is the space
shuttle but the qualities needed to be successful making bicycles
are not necessarily the same as those needed for building the space
In other words, the differences between various forms of media are
often as great as the similarities and additional elements may or
may not be perceived as worthwhile depending very largely on how an
audience takes in its media.
What about the automobile?
The first question that hits our minds when it
comes to most developments in radio is the obvious one. What
about in-auto listening?
We use that phrase to cover any kind of listening situation,
where the listener is doing or may have to do something else
at the same time as having the radio available. It immediately
puts a lot of bright ideas into perspective, and often into
a small listening ghetto.
Thus for example, many of the fancy additional services that
an Internet station can provide are close to useless for a driver
for whom even having to concentrate on a radio display for a
few seconds significantly increases the risk of accident.
If driving whilst talking on a mobile phone is dangerous because
it breaks concentration, what use is a clever cartoon to go
with the audio?
In other words any kind of complicated visual display immediately
imposes limitations on the use of a "radio" receiver
and in many cases point the sensible to a conclusion that in
general use the facility is either of very limited value or
best thought off as a different kind of media, not radio at
all; for automobile use, there could be a strong safety reason
This thought affects the way we perceive the value of RDS, radio
data services, which are already widespread in Europe.
None of the above is to doubt the value of some of the services
provided. For example, the use of RDS to identify in a few characters
and in a glance the station to which one is listening is of benefit
and has very little downside for a driver.
The same is true of automatic TA (Traffic alert) facilities that
automatically override the station to which one is tuned, or the
tape or CD that is being played, when there is a weather or traffic
alert and then return to the original programming.
The value would be significantly diminished if using it were complicated
as opposed to being a matter of pressing a button that brings up
the relevant TA indication when the system is on and remove it at
another button press when no such interruption is desired. Extras,
in other words, might well be negatives unless very simple to operate.
What we class as negative extras are those that
distract a driver or are complicated in operation to the point
that they do not make sense to a large portion of the potential
In this light, we reproduce some paragraphs from the Los Angeles
Times report we have already mentioned concerning RDS services:
"But now a Newport Beach company, dMarc Networks, has partnered
with radio giant Clear Channel Communications to start offering
song information, traffic reports, stock quotes, news headlines,
sports scores and, of course, advertisements, on the company's
five L.A.-area FM stations
Let's think about that for a moment. You are driving and
a small screen with a limited LCD display starts offering the
above plethora of information.
Are you likely to be distracted? We would suggest the likelihood
is so great that a ban should be considered for all but the simplest
displays or alternatively, taking a more libertarian route, that
a jury ought to be automatically considering large damages against
Clear Channel and the system suppliers in any case where a factor
in a road accident has been such a service.
If a fatality were the result, we'd go further on the basis that
to increase chances of this through trying to sell a song, is
indeed criminal and comprises corporate manslaughter. We doubt
that the top executives of any radio companies, advertisers or
suppliers, would perceive the benefits of a few extra dollars
in the same light if they were facing jail as a result.
As the LA Times report noted, " A study by the Center for
Transportation Research at Virginia Tech University showed that
in-car devices requiring more than 15 seconds of attention or
more than four glances greatly increase the risk a driver will
veer from his lane or deviate at least 10 mph from his intended
Needless to say the system's developers play down that element,
with DMarc president Ryan Steelberg saying, "This is an in-dash
billboard. We don't feel it's any more distracting than the bells
and whistles that are in your car now. In terms of safety, the
main problem children out there are the interactive devices,"
such as cellular phones and navigation systems."
"Our product is no more distracting than your oil gauge light
going on. It's not like we're pumping motion video into the system."
We'd agree with him as far as cell phones and navigation systems
go -and suggest that the logical response is to make it an offence
for the cell phone user to operate a handheld phone whilst driving
since the suppliers cannot reasonably prohibit such use of a phone;
as far as the navigational systems are concerned, we have serious
concerns about permitting their use whilst in motion and would
we'd go the same heavy damages and jail sentences route and allow
those who wish to make money from such systems put their liberty
and money where their mouths are.
And we'd comment that its pure BS to link such an idea with an
oil or other warning light, whose purpose is to alert a driver
to a problem and cause him or her to take appropriate action to
increase safety, not make a few more bucks for the supplier of
an inessential service or commodity.
Irrespective of the responsibility of using such a service, there
is also the question of negative public perception as an example
from the same LA Times report showed.
It notes that the use of RDS by a Santa Monica public radio station
to try and raise funds through scrolling "See your name here"
attracted more complaints from listeners than it did from potential
underwriters. The idea was dumped speedily.
Making the negative positive.
Although we are adamantly opposed to receivers
that drivers can see using text for more than the simplest information
that can be assimilated at a glance, we do not oppose them in
different circumstances; A service on a home receiver can safely
display much more information and can do so in circumstances where
the message can be assimilated safely if the listener/viewer so
We also see some benefits for in-auto facilities over and above
the simple traffic and weather alert facilities already noted.
We don't think, however, that automobile receivers should be allowed
to use visual displays to get over the information or indeed do
so in any way that detracts from a driver's concentration.
Most of the suggestions cited above would be better converted
into an aural service anyway as far as a driver is concerned.
With modern digital storage technology, we can't really see that
this would be an insuperable problem for the services of benefit
to the listener - if you want traffic, weather, news, sports or
stock market headlines, an audio service would be a better one
and we can see no reason why building in some data storage into
an auto receiver couldn't make this something available -repeatedly
if wanted- at the touch of a button.
We doubt a "repeat advertisements" button would get
that much use but have no objection to it and more than we have
any objection to a button that either gives verbal details about
a song being played or stores those details for later m and safer,
Any views? Please comment
on the above. For that matter, if you can put the time aside,
we'd like your "Guest comment" pages this year to stimulate
more feedback and dialogue.